Spring Colors: Best Printers for Photos

Capture the colors of Spring--and Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduations, or family picnics--with one of these particularly skillful photo printers.

Snapshot Printer: Epson Picturemate Dash

The Epson PictureMate Dash may look like a glorified lunch box, but this printer delivers where it counts. Photos (4 by 6 inches only) came out quickly in tests, averaging 1.5 pages per minute. The palette was universally pale, but as a result images showed more detail in dark areas. The cost per print is an inexpensive 26 cents (based on the $40 PictureMate Print Pack for 150 4-by-6-inch glossy photos). The large LCD makes viewing and manipulating photos easy. Unusual options include changing color photos to monochrome or sepia tones, as well as adding decorations, preset phrases, or dialogue bubbles. Epson bundles ArcSoft PhotoImpression, a full-featured application for managing and manipulating photos.

Snapshot Printer: HP Photosmart A636

The HP Photosmart A636 is fast and very easy to use. Its print quality is nearly as good as that of the Epson PictureMate Dash, which costs roughly the same, and it accepts more sizes of paper to boot. The 4-by-6-inch photos we printed for our tests each came out in less than a minute. Some images looked a little dark, and flesh tones appeared slightly orangey. Monochrome photos were faintly pinkish. The printer's 4.8-inch, touch-sensitive color LCD responds to your finger or to a stylus. An optional battery is available. The printer takes an unusually broad range of paper sizes, from 4-by-6-inch pieces to panoramic (4-by-12-inch) paper to 5-by-7-inch sheets.

Snapshot Printer: Epson PictureMate Zoom

The Epson PictureMate Zoom looks expensive, but it has one outstanding feature: an integrated CD burner. You insert a disc into a side tray, select photos from your media (two slots take most major card formats, and the device has a PictBridge/USB port too), and then press the 'Save to CD' button on the control panel. The Zoom is also fast, averaging 1.5 pages per minute (ppm) printing photos (4 by 6 inches only). The 3.6-inch, tiltable LCD makes surfing the printer's many editing and enhancement options simple. In our tests photos looked good; though they seemed pale (especially flesh tones), they were detailed. The 6.6-pound printer has a handle for toting, and an optional battery is available.

Inkjet Printer: Canon Pixma iP4600

The Canon Pixma iP4600 is billed as a photo printer even though it lacks media slots; nevertheless, it's worth considering for the budget-minded home user and amateur photographer. It does give you two input trays and automatic duplexing. The ink tanks are inexpensive: 4.3 cents for a black-text page, and 12.2 for a four-color page. In our tests, text pages exited at a snail's pace of 7.3 pages per minute (ppm), but they looked black and crisp. Photos came out at a comparatively fast 1.9 ppm. They were slightly grainy and pale on plain paper, but Canon's own photo paper brought out better detail and smoothness.

Inkjet Printer: HP Photosmart D5460

Though the HP Photosmart D5460 is a bare-bones printer in most respects, it has a few standout features that any photo enthusiast would love to have. For one thing, it's fast: In tests it generated 11.4 pages per minute when printing text-only pages and 3.4 ppm when printing graphics. In addition to a 125-sheet main tray, its dedicated 20-sheet photo-paper tray handles paper sizes of up to 5 by 7 inches, and the device also has an integrated input tray and caddy for printing on specially coated CD or DVD media. Photos printed on HP's own paper looked natural (aside from a slight orange cast to flesh tones) and showed sharp detail even in dark or muted areas. The inks are affordable, too.

Inkjet Printer: HP Photosmart D7560

The HP Photosmart D7560 packs extra-cool features. Test photos looked natural on HP-brand photo paper, but grainier and darker on plain paper. Text samples on plain paper appeared black and crisp. Print speeds were average or better in most cases. The printer's color touchscreen LCD and uncluttered control panel are easy to use. In addition to a main paper tray and a piggybacked photo-paper tray, you get a CD/DVD labeler for printing on specially coated media. The only high-end feature the D7560 lacks is networking: It has neither ethernet nor Wi-Fi. The standard-size inks can be costly, but the high-yield versions are much cheaper.

Color Inkjet MFP: Canon Pixma MX7600

Considering the price, the Canon Pixma MX7600 color inkjet multifunction printer had better be good--and it is. In our tests, the Pixma MX7600 printed at above-average speeds. The quality was high on both plain and photo paper; copies and scans of text and photos looked good, too. The paper handling includes two input trays and an automatic duplexer, and the scanner's 35-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF) can scan two-sided documents in a single pass. Ink costs from the individual tanks are very economical. Canon's better-than-average rating in our recent Reliability and Service survey is the icing on this substantial cake.

Color Inkjet MFP: HP Photosmart C6380 All-In-One

The HP Photosmart C6380 All-In-One does a good job at nearly everything. In tests it printed plain-text pages at a rate of 11.3 pages per minute (ppm), and color graphics as fast as 3.2 ppm--above average compared with the competition. On plain paper, text seemed slightly fuzzy, and photos were a little dark but smooth. Everything improved on HP's own paper, except flesh tones, which were orangey. Connections include USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi. The control panel offers a 2.4-inch color LCD, and the media slots take Memory Stick, SD Card, XD Picture Card, CompactFlash, and PictBridge-compatible media. A main input tray includes a piggybacked photo tray. The standard-size ink tanks are reasonably priced, but the high-yield ones are an even better deal.

Color Inkjet MFP: Canon Pixma MP980

The Canon Pixma MP980 offers premium photo features. With the scroll wheel you can navigate the large, tiltable, 3.5-inch color LCD quickly. Connectivity encompasses USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi. Paper handling includes an automatic duplexer and two input trays. The media slots take CompactFlash, SD Card, and Memory Stick. In our tests, the print speeds were average: 8.1 pages per minute (ppm) for text, 2.5 ppm for graphics. On plain paper, text looked crisp, color graphics seemed a little pale, and flesh tones appeared orangey. Canon's own photo paper improved results. The ink costs are reasonable: Black costs 4.1 cents per page, while a page with all four colors (except photo gray) costs 13.1 cents.

Color Laser Printer: Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer

The Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer is extremely capable, and it has room to grow. In our tests, plain-text pages burst out at a rate of 25.3 pages per minute (ppm), and its tested graphics speed of 5.7 ppm is also extremely fast. Text looked crisp and black, and photos appeared realistic even on plain paper. Paper-handling add-ons (such as a duplexer) cost extra. A two-line, monochrome LCD with navigational buttons adjacent makes the menus easily accessible. The door for replacing the toner cartridges also exposes the transfer belt--a potential damage risk--but the toner itself is economical, perfect for high-volume office use.

Color Laser Printer: HP Color LaserJet CP2025n

The HP Color LaserJet CP2025n is only middling in speed and features, but it produced impressive print quality in our tests. We liked the very crisp, black text and the fairly natural colors (sometimes tending toward yellow or cyan). We noticed haziness only in some of the finer details, such as pinstripes and delicate flowers. The nice print quality compensates for the low-rent design: This model has minimal paper-tray markings, rattly moveable parts, and an awkward input-tray extension for legal-size media. Better, however, are the reasonable toner costs. Although this printer ships with starter-size supplies (always a bummer), the replacement costs are pretty good: about 3.5 cents per page for black text, and about 16.5 cents for a page with all four colors.

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